Formatting the News

The war in Ukraine, Partygate, Coronavirus, Brexit – big stories have been somewhat non-stop over the past few years. At the same time, social media has never brought us closer to the participants.

Josh Marshall, from Talking Points Memo has curated a list of journalists covering the Ukraine story – 2022 Ukraine Crisis. Pinned to my Twitter home screen, I can flick between my regular followees and up-to-the minute Ukraine news. When I hear a news bulletin its rare that I’m not ahead of the latest moves.

The challenge to broadcasters is their well-oiled machinery of news, checking, writing and reporting is somewhat short-circuited by the public having access to the world’s correspondents and news makers. Of course there’s the fringes and the fog of war – but just following ministers, diplomats and trusted sources gives a pretty accurate insight and the latest developments. I think for podcasters it’s even more of a challenge as their turnaround time is, generally, much longer. Though as I talk about below, some are trying to change that.

In the UK, the grammar of news hasn’t really changed since the introduction of news channels. In the US, many of the news channels have changed to become personality-led comment channels. I’m no Fox News fan, but looking at Friday’s US TV ratings for total viewers, its show The Five was TV’s 4th biggest show and Hannity the 6th – beating all of NBC and the regular Fox’s primetime line-up. They were also still both in the top ten for the more attractive 15 to 49 demo. Fox News has certainly found its niche and audience, driven by a very formatted, focused approach.

This came to mind as I listened/watched, last night, to the first edition of Andrew Marr’s show on LBC. It’s never particularly fair to review first nights, as things are likely to change, evolve and settle over the next few weeks. However, there’s some broad thoughts that struck me.

Firstly, it was very televisual in structure and content. Perhaps no great surprise with a TV presenter, and producer (Rob Burley) at the helm. They squeezed a lot in – what seemed like an autocue’d opening, a conversation with Camilla Tominey at the top, perhaps the first guest Michael Gove was a little late, a round-up with LBC’s political reporter, a two-way with John Sweeney in Kyiv, an interview with International Rescue’s David Miliband, the UK ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward, plus three news/travel/ad breaks sort of on the quarter-hour before an autocue’d closer.

It was a pretty packed show, which did mean Marr was speeding through questions at the beginning with Gove and then having to cut off potentially interesting responses from Sweeney and Miliband later on. The Gove interview would have been very different if tackled by fellow LBCers Nick Ferrari or Iain Dale. The core political question of the day around refugees was very lightly touched, whilst there seemed to be more of a desire to get to a potential (pre-prepped?) news line around likely money from the Chancellor to help with the cost of living.

I guess the big question for this show, or any piece of current affairs, is what’s its purpose? What’s unique about that show? Also how does it cut through to drive awareness and audience?

The pre-written opener sold the idea that they were going to connect the Ukraine invasion with the effect it has on you, the British public. The pre-written closer referred to this too, but I’m not sure much (except the Gove line) had much to do with that, so it seemed a little odd.

The benefit of Marr is the contacts he has and the ability for his guests to push on the stories that have evolved in the day. The aim should surely be for the papers or late news bulletins to have a report/clip of someone important telling Marr something new. I’m sure they’ll also settle in to being comfortable with less guests.

Marr worked very well as a TV programme. It’s from Global’s Westminster studio, angles and graphics all work great. Getting to watch it is a little tough. It was only on Global Player – where you select LBC and then wait for the video box to pop up, which you then click for the stream. There’s no real reference to watching anything from the LBC website. Sometimes LBC live video is also on YouTube/Twitter, this wasn’t. So as a viewer its quite hard to know where you’re supposed to get it – particularly if you want to be ready before the start. The end of the show was also cut off on the app, so no Iain Dale sell for me!

I think LBC is clearly going towards being a live 24hour video stream at some point, but right now the half and half nature makes it all a little confused.

Spooler

Playing with the form of news is something that Spooler Media has been doing. Its tech powers the new podcast from Insider call The Refresh.

As they describe it:

Spooler is a new CMS for publishing audio that gives creators the unique flexibility to edit and re-edit podcasts quickly and easily, making timely updates feasible in a way never possible before.

It’s a modular CMS that allows the user to insert/update/replace segments in a podcast easily. In other words have a news podcast with the latest information rather than users listening to something that was perhaps published over 12 hours before.

The Refresh is the first podcast to use the tech. I think it’s a neat idea and I imagine works particularly well for podcasts that are listened to streamed (a la Spotify) than downloaded, where this updated file concept is likely to cause variable issues depending on which app you use.

What is an interesting challenge is whether you can train listeners to understand that when they hit play they get something up-to-the-minute, when in that medium they’re used to something being more edition based.

AOB

On The Media Podcast this week, Podnews’ James Cridland and the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobitt join me to talk Britbox, ITV and the BBC, Ipsos Iris news rankings and Peter Crouch moving his podcast to Acast. Plus Warren Nettleford tells me about the recently re-launched youth news service Need To Know.

Listen by searching for The Media Podcast on Apple, Google and Spotify or click here.

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